FITBIT CHARGE & CHARGE HR REVIEW
Updated: Dec 12, 2014
FitBit's new fitness bands -- the FitBit Charge and the FitBit Charge HR -- will feature the perks of the FitBit Force, plus some. With a screen that can tell time like a watch and all the fitness stats you've come to expect from FitBit, these fitness trackers also provide caller ID via your connected smartphone. The Charge HR does all that AND tracks your heart rate 24/7 via their "PurePulse" optical heart rate system. I own the Charge HR, and share my thoughts below...
Features, Features, Features
The FitBit Charge offers the following features:
You can log into your personal FitBit dashboard online to view all of your detailed data over time. You can also track calories consumed, weight over time, and customize a calorie tracking plan for weight loss. FitBit's Aria smart scale, sold separately, will wirelessly transmit your weight and body fat percentage to your dashboard as well, helping to provide a full picture of your health journey over time.
The web dashboard and phone app (iOS, Android, Windows) let you connect socially with other FitBit users - both those you know in the real world and those you don't - and see how you rank against them on your personal "leaderboard." A new beta feature in the phone app as of fall 2014 lets you challenge other users to races -- depending on the challenge, the person to get the most steps at the end of the day, week, or weekend wins. There are also communities you can join (marathon runners, local walkers, etc), and a robust forum of FitBit users who help answer each other's questions and provide support.
The FitBit Charge data is transferred wirelessly from your fitness tracker to your computer or compatible mobile device throughout the day.
Heart Rate -- So What? I'll tell you what.
FitBit's calorie estimates are that -- estimates. And yes, heart rate can help improve estimated calories burned. But even without heart rate, FitBit's calorie estimates have already been accurate enough for me to lose weight when paired with calorie counting (MyFitnessPal). So why bother?
Call me a screen addict, but I know I'm not the only one who cherishes having fitness stats right on their wrist.
A wrist-based screen is always in view, which helps you remember that you even have a fitness goal, not to mention that you might want to try completing that goal for the day. And in the middle of a walk or run, a screen provides the real time data you need in order to determine how close you are to achieving your goals: if you head home now, will you hit your goal, or should you go another mile before turning back? Should you park at the back of the parking lot to get in a few more steps, or on the top floor of the parking garage to get some stairs in on the return trip? Should you take a little stroll after dinner? A screen helps simplify these decisions.
Now that the screen also announces caller ID and heart rate, its value is greater. Frankly, I'm anti-smartphone, so caller ID doesn't appeal to me. But all the other data (including the time of day), plus the heart rate that the FitBit Charge HR has to offer? Count me in.
The screen on the FitBit Charge HR is very bright and readable in a variety of lighting, so I'm expecting the same of the FitBit Charge.
A Real Watch Clasp on the FitBit Charge HR
Finally, a fitness tracker that just uses a good old watch clasp: the FitBit Charge HR. (Sadly, the FitBit Charge has the old-style of snap-in-place closure).
Still, I'm delighted to see this update in the Charge HR! Enough of clasps that require three tons of pressure to snap into place and that pinch your wrist skin in the process. Enough of clasps that pop out of place when they hit the gunwale of the canoe mid-paddle and sink to the bottom of the murky river, or when they catch as you reach through chain link fences or into boxes of tasty foods or as your wrist brushes against your jeans.
Furthermore, the wristband plastic is comfy and feels just slightly higher-end than the waxy feel of the FitBit Flex plastic. I have sensitive skin that has had reactions to almost every fitness tracker I've worn at some point, and while I can't speak for others, the Charge HR has not caused any problems for me so far.
The Charge HR's traditional watch band clasp is extremely adjustable. This makes the circumference of the band uber customizable. Lose weight? Gain weight? Want to lend the band to a friend? This should save you from having to order a whole new band to accommodate every minor change: just let the clasp out a notch or in a notch.
To sum it up: unlike clasps that must be snapped into place, a standard watch style clasp won't be painful or difficult to attach, won't spontaneously come unsnapped, and will offer a very custom fit to your wrist. FINALLY. Somewhere, a sanity checker finally weighed in on a fitness tracker band design.
Fitbit Charge battery life: up to 7 days.
Fitbit Charge HR battery life: up to 5 days.
Verdict: Those are respectable battery life durations.
In my experience with other brands of fitness trackers, a battery life of up to 4 days is the brink of inconvenience. This brink is pretty mobile depending on your individual lifestyle. But for me, I end up being surprised by a low battery in the middle of day 3 or 4, and miss out on tracking activity when I'm too far from home to recharge. Luckily, it looks like both of these new FitBit products are in the "safe zone" by my standards/preferences. And, so far, the Charge HR battery life seems to live up to its promise.
Both the FitBit Charge and FitBit Charge HR automatically track sleep. You don't have to press any buttons as you drift off or when you wake up. For me, this is a huge convenience. When I wear a fitness tracker 24/7, the first thing that I slack on when I get lazy is sleep tracking -- that is, IF I have to press buttons to make it happen.Thanks to the Charge HR, I now actually have some sleep data again!
I've also been tracking my sleep with the Basis Peak (which also tracks sleep automatically). The FitBit Charge and Charge HR are better at sleep tracking than the Peak in one respect: when you're relaxing with a novel and your tracker mistakenly automatically thinks you've been asleep, FitBit lets you edit that the next day to more accurately reflect when you turned out the lights. Basis, on the other hand, has not yet introduced a way to override incorrectly tracked sleep.
But in all other respects, the Basis Peak is the gold standard of sleep tracking. It tracks "Toss & Turns", light sleep, deep sleep, and REM. That's a wealth of data when compared to the FitBit's sleep data -- but it might be more than most users care about.
My Experience with FitBit Products
In addition to the FitBit Charge HR, I've owned a FitBit One, FitBit Flex, and FitBit Force. Despite a few small drawbacks that each presented, I liked them all quite a lot, and have always had one in my possession since late 2012. Since that time, I've had great interactions with FitBit customer service, from troubleshooting to product replacement under warranty. I've come to really appreciate the FitBit social features -- and by that I don't mean "ability to share to Facebook/Twitter/etc." I mean ability to have a list of friends in the FitBit app or web dashboard who you can challenge and compete against for the most steps. This really helps keep me active.
The main drawbacks that I experienced when using the three previous FitBit models mentioned above are as follows: The FitBit One was too easy to lose, the FitBit Flex band was difficult to snap on and didn't track stairs climbed or have a screen, and the FitBit Force caused an allergic reaction. The links in the previous sentence will take you to the reviews I've written about each one.
Luckily, the FitBit Charge and FitBit Charge HR seem to solve all of these drawbacks. Since they will both be wrist-based, I don't expect issues losing them, as happened with my FitBit One. Because the new Charge HR band is secured with a standard watch clasp -- yes, that very type of closure that has been working for untold years -- I don't expect attaching the band to be painful. And because FitBit seems to have learned their lesson about keeping nickel out of products that are constantly against the skin, I don't expect to have an allergic reaction -- and so far, none of the metal on the FitBit Charge HR has caused any kind of irritation on my skin.
Having used a Flex for quite some time now, I've really been missing having a screen on my FitBit. Considering my love of seeing data on the fitness tracker screen, and considering how much I love heart rate data, I'm pretty happy with my upgrade to the FitBit Charge HR!
Ten Tips for FitBit Users
Check out my helpful post detailing 10 tips to help you get the most out of your FitBit! I wrote these tips when I first purchased my FitBit One, but they're still relevant for most other FitBit models as well.
Comparing FitBit Products
In addition to the above, all track steps, active minutes, and estimated calories burned.
LET'S BREAK IT DOWN
Features & Added Benefits
The FitBit Charge and FitBit Charge HR have a 3-axis accelerometer that captures your 24/7 motion. This motion data is used to categorize steps, activity intensity, and sleep patterns. An altimeter measures changes in air pressure to determine your change in elevation. That data is used to calculate the equivalent number of flights of stairs you've climbed in a day. By entering your gender, height, age, and weight into the app, FitBit is able to estimate the calories you burn at rest and while exercising. By providing your stride length (or relying on the stride length they estimate for you) and multiplying by the number of steps you've taken, FitBit estimates the distance you've traveled.
The full list of FitBit Charge features: steps, distance traveled, floors climbed, number of active minutes that day and activity intensity, calories burned, hours slept and times awoken. The screen also displays time of day and incoming caller ID. The FitBit Charge HR provides all of the above as well as 24/7 heart rate, including during exercise.
A number of additional features add appeal to the FitBit Charge and FitBit Charge HR (as well as the Flex and One) including: silent vibrating alarms; ability to add friends and strangers to a competitive leaderboard, challenge them to races, cheer them, taunt the, and send them messages; ability to set and track step goals; weight tracking and BMI tracking plus customizable fields to track; food logging/calorie counting via the FitBit dashboard or via MyFitnessPal; ability to connect to third party apps.
Free shipping and nice warranty if you buy via FitBit.com. You can find similar perks via the company's authorized Amazon store or other authorized retailers, but you'll have to read the fine print to be certain.
Hardware & Wearing
The FitBit Charge and Charge HR have a wristband form factor with a backlit screen. The Charge HR band attaches to the wrist via a standard watch clasp while the Charge attaches via a snap-in closure.
Battery Life & Charging
The Charge HR has a battery life of up to 5 days, and the Charge has a battery life of up to 7 days. They charge via an included USB cable.
Bluetooth 4.0 syncing allows your data to automatically transfer to the website/app when you get within 10 to 20 feet of your paired computer or mobile device.
View your data via the Mac or PC web dashboard (Windows XP is not supported) or through select iOS and Android devices and Windows Phones. The app and web dashboard do not offer identical views or data, but both are very similar and both do a great job at data presentation. An API is available, and the device interfaces with many popular fitness apps and websites, including MyFitnessPal, Run Keeper, May My Fitness, Spark People, Endomondo, and Lose It!
Where to Buy
The FitBit Charge and FitBit Charge HR can be purchased directly from FitBit (They provide free shipping for orders over $50).